This week we met our 'match' as we traveled out to the countryside to enjoy a day of polo.  Argentina houses 8 of the top 13 polo players in the world, and takes the game very seriously.  There are over 100 polo clubs in and around Buenos Aires, so it was an exciting experience for us - to delve into the Argentine culture and check off another "must do" on our Bucket List.  Fernando, of Polo Elite, came and picked us up in the first minivan I've ridden in since living in Argentina.  It was quite luxurious to have leg room and not have any meter running!  After a little over an hour ride, we found ourselves entering Puesto Viejo Polo Club.  The huge expanses of green met with a sky that went on for miles was a welcomed change from our crowded city life.  I just had a to take a deep breath of that fresh air (minus the horse manure, of course) and enjoy the silence and calm that the ranch life offered.  It was going to be a good day.

The first part of our day consisted of getting our "gear" on, and learning the basics of how to ride a horse.  Granted, I had learned this before, but not quite in the polo realm, so some things were drastically different.  The first being the saddle.  I was perplexed, trying to put it into the only two categories I knew existed in saddles... Western or English.  Well, Fernando informed me that it was a "polo" saddle, made small and light for the game.  I frantically searched for the horn to hold onto, wondering how I was going to manage to stay on this beast.  Then, I learned the second difference... the reigns.  Polo ponies are dressed with upper and lower reigns, and you have to hold both sets of reigns with one hand plus a whip.  On a side note, they also shave the horse's mane and braid the tail so the hair does not interfere with the players during the match.

Anyway, Fernando showed us how to 'steer' the horse, and we were set off on our way to practice leading our horses.  In the few minutes that followed, I quickly realized that I was not the alpha in this relationship.  I was ducking tree branches as my horse chose his own direction. (Let me assure you, this was NOT because my horse was not well trained, but because this rider hasn't a clue and the horse was indeed smarter)

no, this is not Mark, but I'm sure he shared
the same spirit!
Eventually we got to the field, and I found myself death gripping the small saddle with my free hand as I encouraged my horse (aka - my horse decided) to trot.  This would have been fine, except I soon realized that I would have to use that 'death-grip' hand for holding the mallet and aiming at a small plastic ball!  Seriously?  Who signed me up for this?  Oh yeah, Marko Polo.  That's when I interrupted my focus to watch Mark.  He was riding like Billy the Kid, theme of Bonanza in the background, obviously the alpha - cantering around the field.  Yep. That's how I got here.  There he was, with a huge grin and a look on his face like, "Isn't this awesome?  Aren't you loving this?"  Okay, I really was loving this - the horses, the countryside, the fresh air.  I had to grin back.  It was fun.  Challenging, but fun.

Midday, we took a break to enjoy a wonderful Asado (barbecue) at the polo club's estancia, or ranch house.  It was a beautiful traditional home with many rooms that could be rented for a quiet weekend or week away.  A swimming pool and hammock on the grounds also offered even more relaxation.  We had a nice rest, and great conversation with some other members of the club, before heading back for our final few hours  of polo playing.

As the day went on, our polo improved...slightly.  The match that we played at the end of the day was at more of a walking/trotting pace than the fast-paced matched you may have seen, but we scored some goals and learned a lot about the game.  Here's the basic rules of the game, in case you have a few ponies and mallets hanging around.  Each game is made up of 4-6 periods called 'chukkers.'  Each chukker lasts 7 minutes, and as the teams score, the actual goal for each team switches ends of the field.  During a game, players use between 1 and 2 horses per period, so that the horses are not overplayed.  The line of the ball determines fouls, as players cannot cross the line of the ball with their horse while defending.  Players can only block the mallets of other players or actually "bump" the horse with their horse to make the player miss the ball.

We were nothing near pro at the end of one day, but it was fantastic.  We learned a lot and laughed even more.  And by the way, when you hold the mallet in one hand and reigns in the other, your legs do all the work to hold you onto the horse... and our legs wouldn't let us forget it!  We've been walking like Billy the Kid ever since!


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